I read a really cool passage in a book the other day.  It was about when the author was a new consultant that was facilitating how they would better work together.  He had brought a colleague along to coach him through one of his first ever consulting contracts. At first things went well, and then all of a sudden the group started to criticize him.  As he tried conventional solutions such as playing neutral and moving on with the agenda but nothing worked.The book is “Beyond The Wall Of Resistance” and the author is Rick Maurer.  At the first break in this session Rick went to his coach/colleague and asked him what was going on.  Here’s what he was told:

“There is a thunderstorm out there. You didn’t create the storm, but since you are the highest point you are drawing all its electricity. You’ve got a choice. Either you can continue to stand there like an old tree and take all the hits, or you can be like a lightning rod and allow the electricity to pass through you.”

Rick’s learning from this was that “you must invite the storm. Simply listening to the

A grizzled old veteran
A grizzled old veteran

distant thunder won’t do. You must be willing to stand atop a hill and bring the storm to you.”

What a powerful metaphor for a change agent!  A tree that gets burned by the lightning or a lightning rod that guides the power of the storm safely to ground.  Why wouldn’t we be a lightning rod?

I guess if we have always showed up thinking we are a tree it is hard to imagine we could actually be a lightning rod!

In the leadership world, what’s the difference between a tree and a lightning rod?

To me, it is all about purpose.

The tree wants to go about doing its own thing as it always has on top of the hill.  When the storm comes by and starts firing bolts at the tree, or in the case us as a leader the team we are working with tells us they don’t like what we are trying to do, the tree looks at the storm and says “what are you doing? What did I do to you? There’s no need to take shots at me!” Trees don’t know much about storms.  All they likely have learned is to fear them!

The lightning rod shows up very differently.  It’s very existence relies on of storms and thus it is very familiar with the nature of them. It knows that storms are volatile and apt to great discharges, but it also knows that the storm doesn’t discriminate on what its bolts hit.  The storm just needs to get rid of its destructive energy somehow. The lightning rod simply gives the storm an attractive target for that energy and then safely conduct its energy to ground.   It allows the storm to discharge without doing any damage, and then having released its energy to turn back into a productive cloud providing rain to help keep the environment fertile.

Moving on after the storm
Moving on after the storm

A great leader is like that too.  A great leader knows that tension and fear build up within their teams as there is change around them.  He/she also knows to draw that storm out of their team, giving words to that tension and fear.  Once the issues are named they can be totally understood, examined, acknowledged, addressed, tamed.  Once tamed, we can look to see how we can solve those issues using the energy of the storm to do so, turning the power of those team members into active participation in creating something that is great for the organization as well as addresses the team’s original issues.

How do you show up?  Are you a tree that keeps taking the hits without trying to understand the true nature of the storm?  Or are you a lightning rod that draws the storm out, wanting to know what is at its source, and safely conducts that storm’s energy back into the foundation of the organization so that it can be used again for meaningful creation?

I’ve been a tree.  Being a lightning rod is much more rewarding!

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

9 thoughts on “Thunderstorms

  1. I love the analogy of the tree vs the lightening rod, being grounded as a leader managing the “storm” by channeling the energy of strong emotions into productive activity. This is the mark of a great leader. This reminds me of the philosophy of Nelson Mandela and his famous words ‘take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea’; and then was able to channel the anger of a nation into reconciliation and peace.

    1. Thank you Elizabeth. I also love the parallel to Nelson Mandela. He certainly did channel anger into change, and I believe he is one of the greatest leaders that ever lived. If you’ve read Jim Collins “Good To Great” you will understand my reference to him as a true Level 5 leader.

  2. Love this metaphor. It’s very much aligned with the meditation practice I do where before you begin, you ground yourself into the bedrock below and imagine a giant magnet above your head that connects you to the energy of the universe — in that place, the energy flows through you, and your body becomes the vessel capable of transforming the energy into Love that is continuously radiated out into the world.

  3. Great post Ian! I like to think I’m more of a lightening rod but I know that I have been a tree before when I was younger and first getting into the business world not a fun place to be! I’m going to get that book, thanks again.


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